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Saturday, June 25, 2016

To Be Young Was Very Heaven—Part IX: Wordsworth Conference Ups and Downs

Saturday, August 7

Sari and I jogged around the lake very early, before the morning walk, and then at 7:30 we joined the rest for the Official Walk around the lake. We walked only part way and then left them to go on while we walked back and bathed before breakfast.

Furness Abbey ruins
Right after breakfast everybody piled into a large coach or our smaller van for the whole Conference to drive down to Furness Abbey on Morecambe Bay. In our van we had Richard Wordsworth and Molly Lefebure, both of whom were sure they knew the right way. We were entertained by their disagreements, ever so polite, about the road. Prof. R drove; Roseanne, Claudia, Sean, and I came along with professors Tom MacFarland from Princeton, Bill Ruddick from Manchester, and Horst Mellor and his family from Heidelberg. Horst’s daughter and son were smart and beautiful children. Tom kept us laughing with his stories of all the parties Princeton threw for him before he left. He was going to accept an offer from UCLA at $90,000 a year, but he wanted more because he said they didn’t yet appreciate what a great partier he was. We thought he was something of a screwball.

Prof. Rich had told us he was a brilliant scholar and educator and was known all over. You would never suspect that about him from the way he acted at the conference. We thought he was just a nut.

At Furness Abbey Sven and I ran ahead of everyone so as to take silly pictures of each other perched as statues on pillars and in niches in the ruined walls. We did not want the others to see what we were up to. I was just calling Sven to come pose in the nave of the church when Bones popped out from a pillar and struck a pose. Alas! I was not fast enough to catch Bones standing with his arms stretched out, but I did get a picture of him escaping. Sven told me that that would become my favorite picture of the entire trip. I laughed and said, “You’d better believe it.”

Richard Clancy gave us all a delightfully detailed tour of the Abbey. We ate our sack lunches there, observing the monastic rule of silence (sort of) while Richard Wordsworth read poetry to us, very dramatically.

Our boats heading toward Piel Castle island
Our journey continued down to the coast of Morecambe Bay where Piel Castle sits just off the coast on a little island. The wind was very chilly and a light mist dropped from heavily overcast skies. I had the wool sweater I’d bought in Stratford, but the wind hurt my ears until Pamela Woof produced a scarf which she gave me to cover my head. The boats were slow and the sea very choppy. I was very grateful to Pamela and enjoyed the little boat ride immensely.

Once on the island, I captured a lovely shot of Jonathan Wordsworth posing on a rock for everyone—or maybe just enjoying his view. I hardly saw the castle at all—just a quick walk through—as I spent most of my time poking among the rocks by the water, picking among the shells and finding a couple of fossil specimens.

A lovely pile of ruins
The sun came out and burnt off all the mist. We had a really lovely afternoon. By the time we were ready to go, it was getting hot. I joined Prof. R on the steps leading down to the boat dock, telling him about the fossils and shells I’d found. Jonathan and Lucy were there too, and Jonathan joined our conversation without a single sneer. He asked me such mundane things as about the weather where I am from. He wanted to see what I had found, but I had given the fossil to Sari to carry in her pocket—I didn’t have any pockets. Jonathan shared the rocks and shells he and Lucy had picked up that they were going to polish and display on the mantel above their fireplace.

Back on the bus I got my fossil from Sari and took it to show Jonathan and everybody else who had started hearing about it. On one side was a trilobite and on another an anemone. Three sides show fossil remains. I wished I’d had my brother who knows all about these things to tell me exactly what I had. Everybody agreed it was a beautiful specimen.

We got back to Grasmere late—Molly and Richard argued over which way we ought to go and we ended up “exploring” new subdivision housing. Because we were late, we had missed the Grasmere rushbearing ceremony, in which the children carry on an ancient tradition of bringing rushes to the church to strew the floor. Those who had been able to go said it was very lovely.

Some went to the church to listen to a program before dinner. I was busy writing a sonnet about the recent death of my cat, Inky. She meant a great deal to me, and I was considerably annoyed that when I showed this poem to one of the professors, he said it was a very fine effort, and then he changed his mind and said it was trivial when I revealed that it was about my cat. To me, love is love, no matter the object.
Grasmere Lake evening
If consolation ever came to me
I might believe that love could then return.
She died though, taking with her all, you see,
And she, an only child—where shall I turn?—
I turn to windows running with the rain
—The blur is not as bad as that within—
When dampness came before, she soothed the pain
That caused my tears; will I be soothed again?
I turn back to my books; perhaps I’ll lose
All thoughts of longing loss in other themes—
Then I recall an interrupting muse
Who sat down on my page, chased off my dreams.
Thus memory defeats my need, and I
Can not love again, unless griefs die.

After dinner I went for a walk around the lake, ending at the Prince of Wales Hotel where the slide show of the Lake District was taking place, timed and set to music performed by members of the Grasmere church. Sven, Sari, and I started walked home together, but at the cemetery I told them I wanted to sit awhile, and they went on.

I sat near the Wordsworths’ graves watching the stars come out and fill the skies, feeling the breeze soft on my skin, and I composed another sonnet. Having nothing with me to write with, I hurried to the hotel to write it down. And there it didn’t feel as “finished” as it did in the cemetery. It took some effort for me to get it finished before I fell asleep.
A sigh. The evening breezes kiss my face
In gentle gestures of affection; I
Again breathe out a sigh—I cannot try
To keep in sight, much less to keep apace
Of him whose grave I sit beside—I chase
Elusive moonbeam bridges. None exist
Who can—and I can’t—cross to beat a fist
Against the gates where dwells that poet race.
I sit in starlit silence by the stone
That marks the grave of Wordsworth, hoping still
This muse will not desert me when I’m gone
From Grasmere, where at last I’ve felt it fill
And overflow my mind in tranquil tones
That illustrate strong feelings at my will.

My favorite Grasmere Lake photograph, taken with my Pentax K-1000
I woke up to turn off the tiny light over the sink that I’d had on in place of the overhead light so as not to disturb Sari too much. I was sleeping with my mattress pulled onto the floor ever since that party we had somehow broke my bed springs.

Sunday, August 8

I had planned to go to Mass, but I awoke just in time to hear them leaving down in the front yard. It was raining too, so I supposed Father Barth would hold Mass in one or another of the hotel lounges, and I wouldn’t know which one, so I went back to sleep for twenty minutes.

Sari and I went with Richard Wordsworth on the usual walk around the lake, rain or no rain. My internal alarm clock never allowed me to miss that. Sari said she didn’t know how I did it, waking up on the nose of 7 even if I’d stayed up late. I just told myself I had to wake up then, and I always did.

On the walk Richard discussed with everyone whether we thought it wise to abandon the idea of hiking up to the top of Helvellyn, considering the cold and wet weather. He stopped when we were back to Grasmere and asked the carpark attendant, who has lived here a long time, what he thought. The man said the fog and rain would likely be so thick up on Helvellyn that if we didn’t lose each other and the path, we’d likely slip and fall due to mud or wet grass. Disaster of one sort or another seeming inevitable, we decided to postpone the project to another day.

At breakfast Richard tried to convince Molly with little success. She did not want to be told what to do. We heard later that she and a few others hiked to the top but ended up in pairs, having more or less lost each other. Richard was furious.

Sari and I got dressed up and went to church at 10:30. We could not miss the occasion of Father Barth preaching his guest sermon in Grasmere’s church. Apparently it was something of an annual event connected with the Wordsworth Conference, the rushbearing ceremony, and all. The church was completely decorated with images made from rushes: crosses, shepherds, sheep, flowers spelling “St. Oswald” (patron saint of this church), and other things. Somebody had told us that it was all paganistic, probably dating from pagan times well before the Christian conversion of the British Isles. We weren’t bothered. It was pretty, and everything smelled wonderfully of summer—the cut rushes, of course.

I thought to myself that it hardly mattered what you had or didn’t have in a church if you paid attention to where your heart should be. If I’d had my preference, though, I thought that I’d dress up Mormon churches a bit. I wished the architecture weren’t quite so restricted to functionality or practicality over form. It seemed to me that inspiring architecture could help with feeling inspired, although I realized it was not necessary, and perhaps the work one should be doing inside oneself bore better fruit if one had to struggle? I did not solve this puzzle that day, nor since.

St Oswald's Church in Grasmere
At any rate, St. Oswald’s Church in Grasmere that morning was peaceful and inspiring to me, even with all its pagan ornamentation. The service could have gotten dull if I had heard it every week, never varying. But the scripture reading would never be dull if it were Richard Wordsworth doing the reading—today from 1 Corinthians 13 on charity. Neither would the sermon be dull if it were given by guest preacher Father Barth, talking on the love and faith of little children, recalling that it was the children whom the Master asked His disciples to be like. Not a dry eye in the congregation.

I felt that Bob Barth was exactly the man to give such a sermon. His love for mankind in general and his faith in God radiated from him, making him easily the most popular person at the Conference. I thought the Missouri people were lucky to have him on their university faculty. When we told him afterwards what a great sermon we thought it was, he gave us each a kiss on the cheek, saying how glad he was that we had come, and liked the sermon too.

It was raining harder and we were glad for our umbrellas! The walk was officially off, so most of our group gathered in the Moss Grove lounge to eat our lunches and chat. The topic of conversation started with education in general and turned specifically to who was getting anything out of their discussion groups. Nobody was, among our group at least. Richard Wordsworth poked his head in and heard just a line or two before he said that he was actually searching for Prof. Rich to discuss that very thing. Meanwhile, Roger Simons and David Erdman sat in silence at the other end of the room, making me feel nervously that they wanted the lounge returned to its role as a sort of library, as it had been all week.

Sari and I left for the tv room where we found Jeanie Watson and a quiet place to write papers. We were getting nervous about getting all those papers done. I had thought I had finished more than I found I had. I thought I had mislaid two, but it turned out I had counted wrong.

Somebody came in and told us that Richard Wordsworth, Bill Ruddick, and our advisors were up in the lounge hatching some sort of plan—a big pow-wow was going on. We immediately crashed it. As it turned out, our group was not alone—many others had complained about the seminar discussions. It appeared that enough people had found things to say to sound as if they knew what was what, explained Bill Ruddick, so things had gone on unsatisfactorily too long.

“So the name of the game is really ‘Bluff’ isn’t it?” I asked.
They all smiled and Bill laughed. “That is it exactly,” he said.

The final decision was to stick with the groups as they were, and if some of us felt that we needed more enlightenment, we could hold our own late-night discussions in Sari’s and my room—since invariably we have people there every night anyway. We told Bill he had a standing invitation if he really wanted to come (he sounded as if he did), and we were told we were always free to consult Prof. Rich any time we wished (we already did that anyway). Bill would give the word to the other tutors (discussion group leaders) to start with a brief recapitulation so everybody would have a common jumping-off point. It all sounded good to Sari and me.

After everyone left, I was writing for a while in that room, polishing poems a bit and adding to the Kenilworth Castle mystery. Roger came in to talk. Despite Sari and Roseanne having put him down as an egotistical bore, I found him interesting. Maybe it was just that I liked to see what he would say next. I did find that he liked to talk a lot about his experiences, but who didn’t? He was doing his Ph.D. work at the University of California at Los Angeles and was a year older than I was. He said it blew him away to find out that people reading papers at this conference were younger than he—Nick Roe, for instance.

At 5.30 p.m. we were down at the Wordsworth Library at Town End, a little damp, for Donald Beale’s paper on Lord Byron: “Romaunt to Romantic—Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III.” He dealt with themes of creation—poetry—and procreation—Byron’s daughter Aida—as symbols for the ideal state of self-actualization, as these lines from stanza 6 illustrate:
’Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.

It seemed to me a brilliantly illuminating paper on this poem, so often neglected in college courses. I was wild to get to my books at home and read it all. It is quite long, the first two cantos written while Byron was in England, and the third after his exile to the Continent.

On the way back to Moss Grove for dinner, our own English Department chairman, lately arrived, walked with me, discussing the paper. Then he asked me what I felt the conference had done for me thus far, and wherein lay the value of this trip for me.

I told him that I was learning here not only an appreciation for Wordsworth and other poets and writers in a depth I couldn’t have reached without seeing these settings and experiencing this conference, but that I was also learning that I might be able to write. At least I was gaining the confidence I had always lacked that I could set down an experience in poetry and have it express for me in eloquent (I hoped) and effective language just what that experience felt like or what it had meant to me. I was learning that I could analyze and express a synthesis of theme and development with some insight.

In short, he asked, you want to be a serious writer?

In short, yes. But I didn’t know if I were good enough. But I was gaining confidence.

As I looked around at the last glow of the day on the hills, peeking through those clouds, the sweet smells of damp pavement and earth and grass, all the air and all the earth seemed to say to me that the goal was remarkably within reach, if I’d only stretch and grasp it. At least I could try. What was there to lose when there was everything to gain?

After dinner at Moss Grove Hotel, we began drifting down the street to the church for Richard Wordsworth’s poetry reading. Most of our group sat all together up front, but I didn’t want to go with them. I had just happened to find myself walking along with Roger, who had asked if I needed an armed guard. I had said no, but company was welcome. We had stopped to talk to Bryan Shelley on our way down the street, convincing him to hear Richard read a program of Wordsworth poetry. At the church door, Roger had left me so he could stay out and smoke a cigarette. I went in and hung around the rear of the church waiting for him.

Sari came back and told me she was saving a seat up front for me, but I told her I thought I’d be sitting with Roger. She wished me luck and went back up front. I stayed in the vestibule joking with Peter Laver, who was taking tickets. When Roger came back, Peter asked me jokingly if he should let him in; I replied in kind, laughing, no. He said to Roger, shrugging, “This lady said ‘No’ . . .” and Roger turned and walked away! Surely he knew it was a joke?

But he didn’t come in for a long time after that, and when he did, I was sitting in the back pew, watching to catch his eye and explain. Just when he came in, so did Sam and Sandra White, and they stood directly in the line of sight between me and him. I tried to wave Sam out of the way, but of course he thought I was waving at him, and he waved back. Sandra looked puzzled and then tried to get Sam to move to the front of the church where our friends were beckoning to them. Sam stood there, waving at me! When he finally moved on, Roger had gone and sat somewhere else, and I could not catch his eye.

Then Bryan Shelley came in after all, and he came right over to me and asked if anyone were sitting with me. Obviously not, I thought, politely inviting him to sit down. That turned out to be more than all right, because when we began talking, I found him to be nicer than Roger and an extremely interesting person. He was from North Carolina and was taking his doctoral degree at Oxford, writing on Percy Bysshe Shelley. I asked if he were related in any way, and laughingly he admitted there was a family tradition of a distant cousinship, but he had never seen any proof of it. Bryan, I thought after a few minutes’ conversation, was one of the more unaffected members of this conference. He put on no fronts, was never intimidating even when talking about his academic specialty (he really wanted me to understand what he was trying to do with Shelley), and he was a confirmed believer in the entertaining pastime of people-watching. We sat and gossiped about Richard Wordsworth, how he was never not posing, how was never really offstage in any movement or speech, and how very entertaining he was to watch.

We quit talking when Richard began his program. Richard explained the background of each poem before he read it and gave the poetry all the drama that his training and experience could put into it. He was marvelous, simply marvelous.

During the intermission my friends casually walked back and forth, inspecting what was going on. Later, Sari explained that they had all thought I was going to be sitting with Roger, so they had to find out who I was actually with. At the time, I was too interested in talking with Bryan to pay overt attention to the spy delegation, but I certainly noticed them.

After the program I found myself in the crowd beside Roger, with Bryan nowhere near. I made some remark about the program, hoping to start a conversation in which I could explain, but he barely glanced at me and took off through the crowd. I supposed he thought I was rude to him. It was a stupid situation, that was certain.

Monday, August 9

Sari and I were a bit late for the morning walk, so we thought we would be tricky and jog around the other way to meet them coming. We jogged out on the road to Town End, past the Prince of Wales Hotel, along the highway to the place where the path through the woods started, and there in the woods we caught sight of Marianne, from Germany, and Masanori, from Japan. They were going the same direction as we were! So much for our trickiness—Richard had tricked us instead.

We ran harder and caught up with the main group over the bridge and on the gravel of the northwest lake shore. Richard took a picture of Sari and me down there on the shore. The rest of the way around the lake, Neville and I lagged behind the group to skip stones on the glassy surface of the lake.

Although the morning was sunny, the clouds came to cover the sky a bit later in the morning. Richard, Syl, and Molly decided we would all climb Helvellyn today, even though yesterday’s rain had made it wet. We cheered.

The morning lecture was by Donald Reiman, titled “The Beauty of Buttermere: Fact and Romantic Symbol.” He came to our seminar discussion afterward and expanded on the lecture, so we got a double dose and much greater understanding. The legend of the “Beauty of Buttermere” was that this woman was reputed to be so beautiful that people came from 300 miles away just to gaze at her. When I saw a painting of her later on, I was astounded—she did not look even pretty to me. She had buck teeth too, said Prof. Reiman.

We had to sneak onto the bus going to Helvellyn. Molly wasn’t going to let anybody wearing “those American tennis things” rather than hiking boots onto the bus, and everybody was supposed to have proper rain gear too. Sari and I knew our tennis shoes would do just fine, but all we had for rain gear were plastic rain hats and jackets that stayed water resistant only for a little while. Actually, I had only my Oxford University sweatshirt. We were sitting with Neville and Inge, Sean, Sven, Bill Howard, and a couple other rowdies.

When Neville dashed off the bus in search of something waterproof and returned within minutes with a poncho from the shop across the street that cost only £1.95, I realized I could well afford that and dashed off with the gang’s encouragement. All I’d seen around town previously were macks and jackets for no less than £15, so this was a great deal to me. Neville said we could start a new fashion. After everyone saw us in our twin green tents, there would be a run on the store, he predicted.

A last view of green before the mist descended
I don’t know why Sari and I didn’t climb together, but I ended up climbing with Claudia most of the time. She was pretty funny, inventing new word-phrases using archaic words to explain everything we saw: the wooly sheep, the steepness of the mountain, the bracken, the clouds, the rocks. Then we made up more to describe everything we felt—out of breath, weary, aching, giggly. It reminded me of one of my brothers who liked to do the same kind of thing. ’Twas delightfully diverting.

The beginning of my poem was awkward, but I think it improved as it went along. At least it expressed much of the experience of the mountain climb.
Helvellyn Climb

Since Wordsworth climbed Helvellyn, we were bound
To follow in devotion and ascend
The summit as he did. So twenty-eight
Of us began, our rainproof gear in hand,
Our lunches eaten, our spirits rising with the mount.
We passed the gate, boots and our jogger’s shoes
(We Westerns stubbornly rejected boots)
Put hard to work, a steeper slope than we
Expected coming first. We broke the woods,
Emerging into open moors spread thick
With bracken, trail eroding, slicker from
The rain. The sheep stared stupidly at us:
What did we climb for? they asked; we asked too
When we encountered steeper trails and then
No trail at all, just rocks rising straight up,
We thought. We watched Syl up ahead—she climbed
As if it were a street, not mountainside.
We sweated, panted, kept her in our sights,
Determined not to quit. If Wordsworth could
At seventy years up this mountain climb,
Then easy as it sounds to say he did,
So easy would it sound when we had done!
We toiled on, sweat dried up; the wind grew cold,
And mist descending from the skies obscured
Our goal. We ran, the gravel on the trail
Behind us scattered in our speed to reach
A lookout, where the final sight of gold and green,
A valley stretched below, was caught, first by
Our cameras, then by mist enshrouding it
And us. We couldn’t see our leaders—we
Kept on until a sudden ghostly group
Appeared ahead: they said we’d reached the top!
All wet and freezing as we were, we had
To shout to seas of mist around, all down
The slopes that we had conquered, we had climbed
Helvellyn! Though we couldn’t see the world
Of lakes and farms and fields, we knew it lay
Below obscured, in mist enveloped now,
But waiting for the sun another day.
We thought we too would wait another day
And see the world Helvellyn shows to those
Who reach her heights; we wondered what he wrote—
What Wordsworth said about this view that we
Could only see imagined in the fog—
Perhaps we’d have to wait again until
We’ve seen the world? What can we say after
A man who’d seen it, lived it threescore years
And ten more, adding too, his inward vision
Which we lack? Silenced, solemned, we turned back
To downward trails and thicker mists, and cold
Wet winds, and sheep that dumbly asked us why
We climbed. We slipped, we ran, we sang on down;
We broke the mist—now clouds above and world
Beneath, the warmth was back and songs flung round
The hills. We followed Richard’s strides; a lamb
Came bounding by us in the bracken, lured,
We thought, by happy songs. We ended in
A churchyard. When we’ve lived a little more
We’ll start from there; we’ll climb again to heights
From which we’ll see the start and end of time,
The earth, the sky, the mist that cannot hide,
And then our songs will answer all those whys.
Helvellyn path

All the way down Sari and Sven and I skipped and ran, singing songs with Richard Wordsworth whose long strides were hard to keep up with.

When we were down, Neville invited me and Inge to come have tea with him and Bill Howard and Pamela Woof. “You can get milk,” he said to me. “Would you like to do that?” They were headed straight to the tea shop, but I had to go first to Ash Cottage to get my camera from Claudia. Neville gave me directions to the tea shop, which I hardly listened to, being in a daze both by the climb and by his invitation. He repeated the directions after I pointed the wrong way and asked me, “Do you think you can find it?” in the sneering tone he does so well. I said of course I could, wondering to myself at my assurance when I hadn’t paid attention even to the name of the shop.

I retrieved my camera and decided that that only thing to do was to walk in the right direction until I found a tea shop and then see if they were in it. If I found them, fine. If I didn’t, well, I could lose face without it being the worst thing ever to happen to me. However, Pamela’s dog, Polly, was tied up outside the shop, so it was easy after all. Inside I saw Neville at the counter and going in, asked him how much the milk was. He said he’d already ordered it. I said I knew that but what did I owe him for it? Oh no, he was paying. No, I protested, you can’t do that. Oh yes, he was treating everybody, so go and find a chair at that table over there.

Inge Schelstraete, sitting beside the River Derwent
Besides our party, three other women from the Conference were in the tea room. I sat next to Inge and Neville sat beside me at the foot of the table. Pamela was across from me with Bill on her other side. Neville teased and sneered at me and Inge in turns. In the immortal words of Sari (words made famous by her on this trip) “I could have smacked him!”

First he said to me, “So you can’t drink tea. Why not? It’s a stimulant?” I replied that there was quite a strict health code in my religion. Bill was drinking milk too and said that though he didn’t follow a proscribed health code, his stomach dictated what he could or couldn’t have, and he couldn’t have tea.

Neville said, “Come on, just taste it.”
I smiled and said, “That’s all right.”
“I’ll bet you don’t even know what it tastes like.”
“Yes I do. We drank it all the time before I was a Mormon.”
He said, “So you’re a convert?” making it sound like convict or something equally dreadful.
“Yes,” I said, refusing to be embarrassed.

Pamela asked me if it weren’t hard to have made the change, to give up all the things forbidden. I said that I thought at the time that I’d never be able to live such strict rules, but when I’d made the decision to join, I figured I would try, and so I have and haven’t regretted the decision yet. She asked how old I was when I joined, and I told her I was a teenager.

At the other end of the table we heard Hilda telling her party something about a trip she had taken somewhere in a particular year.

We all seemed struck by the statement. Inge said to me, “I wasn’t even born yet!” I told her I was, and Neville told us his age at that time, which I knew was not correct. So I said what age I was at the time of Hilda’s trip, and Neville, forgetting himself, exclaimed, “Good God! You’re older than me!”

I pretended not to know and asked him, “How old are you?”
He told me to guess.

I scrutinized his face aloud, weighing the lines of fatigue and care against the fact that he was younger than I. Then I “guessed” the right age without a trace of foreknowledge in my demeanor.

“You guessed!” he exclaimed.
“Did I?” I didn’t even smile too much.
Really, I thought, I should have been on the stage.
He wanted to know when my birthday was.
“It was just a few days ago,” I said, and he was very surprised.
“Really? Here at the Conference? But why didn’t you tell anyone? Why didn’t you celebrate?”

Inge hooted with laughter. “She did! You should have been to dinner at Moss Grove that night.”

I added, “The whole hotel sang Happy Birthday to me, and they brought in a cake with candles on it, and everybody signed the card, even Michael Foot.”

Neville was sorry to have missed that. But his next question was, “Why are you so old?”
Inge jumped in, “She is NOT old!”

I laughed and said I felt pretty young still. “Are you really asking why I am still working only on a Master’s degree?” That was exactly what he meant. I explained that for one thing I hadn’t started college right away after high school—he interrupted to get an explanation of what I had done instead—and the second thing was that I kept taking time out to work to get more money.

So when would I be through? Would I go for a D-Phil (Ph.D. in the USA)? Probably, I said. I doubted I would ever be through taking a class from time to time in something.

Inge and I agreed we would like to get degrees in Art, History, Philosophy, Geology (me, not Inge), and Music (Inge, not me). Neville thought we were nuts.

The other ladies had gone, and soon Pamela and Bill left too, to get ready for the paper reading.

Neville wanted to know where the rest of my group was, those who had chosen not to climb Helvellyn.

I said Roseanne was probably taking a nap, and Nancy was probably writing a paper . . .

“Ah!” he interrupted, “one of those twenty papers. Have you written any?” in a tone implying no surprise if my answer were negative—I had probably been playing too much.

“Yes,” I answered.
“Well. then let’s hear about these papers of yours. What have you written about?”
“Actually,” I said, irritated, “they aren’t papers at all. I chose to do a series of poems instead.”

“You write poetry?” he sneered in amazement. I wasn’t sure that anyone could sneer in amazement until I heard his tone. It was really interesting. But I was irritated. I didn’t answer. I thought, You’ll certainly never see any of it.

He asked what the emblem was that Nancy wore on her sweatshirt. More sneering.
“That’s the school mascot,” I replied.
“Why don’t you wear it?”
“Because I don’t have that sort of school spirit,” I retorted.

“Don’t you go to all those American football games?” he asked, making it sound like something only convicts would attend.

“No, I don’t. I don’t happen to like football.”
Inge came to the rescue. “Sports are fun, though, some sports,” she said.
Neville turned his sneer on her. “I suppose you love sports.”

She made no apology in saying she did, and furthermore, she said, she played on an international volleyball team that even went to Czechoslovakia to play. I was delighted—I did like volleyball—so we two happily left Neville out in comparing all-night volleyball marathons that we’d each participated in to raise money for some cause or other. All three of us got up and began to walk back to our hotels as we talked.

Neville sneered one more time at sports, and I asked him what his mania was when he was a kid. Or hadn’t he had one?

He hadn’t.
“But now you do,” I continued. “Books.”
He agreed, but only to a degree.

Inge and I agreed that he was poor, not having ever had a ruling passion. And so we parted to get ready to go hear the paper.

Molly Lefebure
It was Peter Larkin’s turn. His title was “To Conclusions of Antimony: Exiles Boundary in Resolution and Independence’ and The Immortality Ode.” It got no clearer as he read. It got worse. Peter’s word choices were no fewer than four syllables if possible, combining them in the most intricate, complex syntactic patterns achievable. As a result, only a select few could follow what he had to say. I had no doubt that Neville was having no trouble at all. Meanwhile, I began working on another blank verse poem. (Later I realized that part of the problem was simple punctuation in the title: “To Conclusions of Antimony: Exiles’ Boundary in ‘Resolution and Independence’ and The Immortality Ode.”

We pounced on Prof. Rich on the way to dinner. “What was that paper about?” we demanded. He admitted that he had not followed all of it. He explained the paper’s main idea, but then he gave us a lecture on not falling into the trap of believing that the more scholarly a paper sounded, the more the critical opinions have to disguise themselves behind a lot of “verbal smog” to get by as something profound, the sounder the ideas must be. Nonsense, he said. We should not believe that we should write that way. There was much more power in one good idea simply expressed than in a hundred faulty, silly, or muddled ideas dressed up in fancy wording. And yes, he said, he had read enough of the headache-inducing kinds that he thought could have been much more plainly put to realize that it ought to be obvious to any writer that to reach a far larger audience, simplifying was the way to go. Simplicity need not carry the connotation of shallowness.

Tom MacFarland’s evening lecture was that controversial “Hedgerows, Hardly Hedgerows” diatribe against what he termed were stylistic flaws in Wordsworth’s poetry. It started a war as soon as he was finished. He dared to find flaws in “Tintern Abbey”! It was great fun to watch the action. One thing he said was, “The flaws are so numerous that it is difficult to see how it [Tintern Abbey] is great; so it must be that flaws in some cases are not flaws.” I loved how illogical that sounded.

Norman Fruman’s comment was my favorite: that any controversy on flaws in language will never be resolved, because each critic reads a passage according to his or her own background and interpretation, and bring to his or her understanding of a work the sum of experience and education unique from any other. Many having similar backgrounds may agree, and many may disagree, but it would go back to and end up at a point that the critic must step outside his own values, beliefs, background, and so on, into that of the writer as far as possible.

It was very interesting to watch those who could and those who couldn’t. Some of them introduced Aristotelian criticism and pointed out the basic Ut Pictora Poeasis = a poem is like a picture. A picture of a stream = the imitation of the Platonic idea of a stream. The more aesthetic, the less useful. So don’t dredge the stream, and don’t remove the flaws!

Tuesday, August 10

Morning walk
During our morning walk around the lake, I was amused to notice that since the tutors had gone to that late-night Japanese Whiskey Ceremony, they walked very fast for much of the way around so that nobody could keep up with them. Guess they hadn’t wanted their appearances examined too closely, or they hadn’t been able to endure the idea of conversing with anyone remotely annoying after having “tied one on.”

Peter had slept in the Moss Grove Hotel’s tv room on the sofa a few hours, said Sari, after talking to him at the end of the walk. She would have liked to have talked to him further, but another of our group butted in and “interviewed” him, to Sari’s disgust.

Roseanne and I hung back during the walk and I sang schmaltzy songs to her. She was missing her husband, she said, and she imagined that I was thinking of Sven. I just smiled and kept singing. One can like schmaltzy songs without having someone specific in mind, especially when one is busy concocting a Scheme.

After breakfast we were determined to be in good time down at the Prince of Wales Hotel for Father Barth’s morning lecture. Titled “Coleridge’s ‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’,” his lecture was a close reading of the poem, expanding and illuminating our understanding of it by examining four critical treatises to trace the changing critical opinion of the poem. He pointed out Coleridge’s echoes of Milton, Keats’ Aeolian Harp, and Coleridge’s own poems “Frost at Midnight,” “Ancient Mariner,” and “Dejection: an Ode.” This poem is both a drama of transformation and of poetic art, celebrating personal pain and poetic triumph together. It closes with the startling image of the Brockenspectre, a phenomenon first recorded seen in the Hartz Mountains. When the air is filled with a mist of fine particles of frozen snow and the sun is at one’s back, one can see one’s shadow projected as a figure with a sort of halo around it moving ahead. As a metaphor for poetic genius, Coleridge sees it in double vision: he knows the shadow and the glory come from the light of the sun, but he also knows he makes it.

This lecture sparked a heated discussion in our seminar group among Hilda, Helen, Bill, and some others over whether the woodsman in the poem should have recognized the phenomena or not. The poets says, “The enamored rustic worships its fair hues,/ Nor knows he makes the shadow he pursues!” I’m inclined to think the experienced woodsman would be familiar with it, but it depends on experience. Yet, couldn’t the “worship” be that subliminal sort of worshipful, awe-filled feeling we all get when we see any phenomenon of nature that is especially strange and beautiful, whether we’ve seen it before or not? Our discussion then turned to the flaws lecture, and Sandra and I were amused by everyone’s having a different opinion of what a flaw was.

I was feeling much more comfortable in the seminar group, enough that I could now and then throw in a comment, or more often ask a question to direct the discussion down a path I particularly wanted to follow. It really didn’t matter that I knew next to nothing compared to all the eminent educators. I had come to understand that they knew very well that I and the rest of my group were standing as it were on the borders of knowledge, asking to be guided into the field. It had taken me some time to work up the nerve to ask. My own professors encouraged me, telling me to keep asking those pertinent questions I was coming up with. (What pertinent questions, I wondered. It was more like hit and miss.)

In the afternoon I loaded my camera with black and white film again, deciding to take a lot of People Pictures on the excursion to Buttermere and Cockermouth.

At Buttermere we “looked” for the “Beauty of Buttermere” with lots of joking and laughter about it. I followed Sean, and Sue and Morris Schopf, and Tom Clancy up the rocks to a waterfall above the lake. Sue was a scream. A Harvard professor, she must be vastly entertaining in class. I laughed until my sides ached when she squealed out the window of the coach on the way, “Oh Morris! Look at the little sheeplets!” as we passed some ewes and lambs in a field. She was fun to be around at all times.
One of my postcards

The Beauty of Buttermere? I haven't seen her.
We're keeping a watch on the skies for her. She can't elude us!
I'm getting ready for her when she gets here.
I can hardly care less.
Wait!--which way did she go?
I'll capture her on film!
I'm ready when the Beauty of Buttermere gets here!

Back in the coach on the way to Cockermouth, Neville wanted Sari and me to sing the ballad “Lord Randall” again. He requested it every chance he got. He, Peter Larkin, and Inge lost track of the time in Buttermere and were very late getting back to the coach, which infuriated Richard Wordsworth. Sari and I were sitting in the back of the coach making funny comments to lighten things up—we saw no need to contribute to the tension. Richard went striding off after them to give them “what for,” but they came back a different way while he was gone. I took a picture of Richard as he strode off, and that made Peter Laver and Lucy Newlyn laugh and we all made funny comments. When Neville got on the coach, we told him his head was going to roll soon, so he climbed out of the coach as Richard approached on his way back, and with Neville kneeling in the road abjectly and elaborately begging pardon, even Richard began to laugh. Nevertheless, at Cockermouth Richard said to Peter as they got off the coach, “And at what time will you be back?”

Cockermouth--the Wordsworth house
In the Wordsworth house museum
Cockermouth was the village where Wordsworth was born and where he lived until his parents died. They had a pretty house and apparently were wealthy by the standards of the day. But the furnishings in the house now, we were informed by Richard, were far beyond the standard the Wordsworths could have afforded, although they were certainly of the right period. There are paintings by famous artists, a harpsichord and an early piano, Queen Anne furniture that was expensive for anybody back then, and materials used in the draperies and furnishings of a richness seen only in the best houses. Richard explained that nowadays the Department of Environment and Culture would just wave a magic wand and put a Turner painting here, a such-and-so musical instrument there, and if they stayed true to the period of manufacture, they didn’t bother about the period income.

Out in the garden Richard read Wordsworth’s poem to the River Derwent as we sat and watching the river flowing beyond the garden wall. People sat on the wall, or in the chairs or on rustic benches under the trees at the ends of the different paths through the garden. I took a picture of Inge on the wall overlooking the river.

We were told this morning that we had to have all our papers turned in by Friday. Naturally I panicked. I recounted my papers and found I had only 13, not 16, and two of those were not quite finished. I began writing as soon as we returned to Grasmere that afternoon, but whatever I was doing, it was not worth missing Bryan Shelley’s paper! I had gotten absorbed in writing and had completely forgotten where I was or what else was going on.

Bryan Shelley’s paper was called “The Synthetic Imagination and Shelley’s Association of Ideas,” and it dealt with a key concept to understanding Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry. Shelley, of all the Romantic poets, was the one I most wanted to research further. I had done a couple of papers on him for classes in the past few years and found much that interested and enticed me into further investigation. Shelley was the poet who in 1819 (a significant year) wrote that he was positive that the heavens were moving toward some kind of powerful, new, cataclysmic manifestation of some sort. He was so sure that something would happen within the next year or two that when 1821 came and he had not had found anything to answer his expectation, he gave up something of his hope in life and the future and took to sailing out into the Mediterranean, especially during storms although he couldn’t swim. It cost him his life in July 1822 when a sudden squall overtook his sailboat off the coast of Italy. His 1821 poem “The World’s Great Age Begins Anew” contains his feelings that something must happen or all hope is rendered useless.

Although I was well into my work and disgusted with myself for missing Bryan Shelley’s paper, after dinner I made myself quit and go to Robert Langbaum’s discussion of Wordsworth’s lyrical characterizations. It was a worthwhile lecture.

Sari, Roseanne and I stayed up pretty late talking a lot of nonsense for entertainment. My next mad crush, I informed them, was going to be on Bill Ruddick. Roseanne raised immediate objections but I waved them away. The slight age discrepancy of 21 years shouldn’t be an insuperable obstacle, I said, and at least he’s single (a dig at Sari who likes a married man). Roseanne thought he looked too effeminate with his long hair, but the more we have seen of him, the less we think so. Now we think he looks like one of the old engravings of a knight or king from the middle ages. Besides, nothing could beat his volubility and eloquence. Words never fail him in any occasion, and there are many as he is the head tutor and introduces every lecture as well as providing commentary to introduce the discussions afterward.

Wednesday, August 11

I went with the morning walkers, but Sari slept in. Sven and I discussed how much fun we are having here.

After breakfast Prof. David Erdman presented his long lecture this morning on Wordsworth and other revolutionaries in Paris in 1792, telling all of the crazy, grandiose notions they had for bringing the same sort of revolution from France to Britain.

Since his lecture was so long and included some question-and-answer time, we did not hold our seminar discussion groups today. Sari said she wrote two of her papers during part of it.

I spent most of the day writing, sitting in the lounge of the Moss Grove Hotel watching the rain from time to time, as it poured without ceasing for hours. Roger Simons and David Erdman came in and talked to me some and to each other more when it became apparent that I was intent on getting on with my writing, and they didn’t have to include me.

Nick Roe read his conference paper today. We were all there to support him as he is a brilliant young scholar and about our own ages. Roseanne saved me a place at the table, but I preferred to sit in a back corner and observe more people. The paper, “Citizen Wordsworth,” was about the political situation for Wordsworth as a very young man, and it was one of the best papers presented at the conference—everybody said so. Nobody had an argument at the end, nor a point to bring up that Nick had not covered in his research if not stated in his paper. People on the way back to dinner were remarking what a good paper it was, and how he was sure to be famous someday, and how we could all claim that “we knew him when.”

After dinner our evening lecturer was Dr. Richard Gravil of Devon, who examined the evidence and presented the idea to us that Coleridge had created his own Wordsworth in his mind, and part of the reason for the two men’s estrangement was that the real Wordsworth conflicted with what Coleridge thought Wordsworth should do, think, say, and write.

Everybody gathered tonight in the Moss Grove Hotel lounge for an informal poetry session. Everyone was to bring a favorite poem to read, song to sing, or something-or-other to share. Sari and I went down. Bob Barth read “Tintern Abbey.” Nick Roe read a twentieth-century poet whose name I did not know and could not remember. Peter Laver read a modern fairy tale. Neville did a parody of a Wordsworth poem that I thought was clever, but it put Richard Wordsworth in a bad mood. After the serious bits were over and the more serious people had gone off to bed, Sari and I were persuaded to sing. Naturally we had to sing “Lord Randall.” I introduced “Thais” as a bawdy ballad, but I asked their indulgence as it was long and I had not sung it in a while and was afraid I might forget a line or two. They said all would be forgiven except if I forgot the punchline, and then the consequences would be dire.

I sang it and did have to paraphrase a line or two, but I remembered the ending just fine, and they all liked it. Jane and Angela, who came to the conference only lately, liked it enough that they requested the words.

Sari and I then sang the beautiful Irish ballad “Near in Mountains” with its intricate harmony. Soon after that the party broke up.

We two went down to the lobby and saw Inge, the two Peters, Jeanie, Neville, Bill, Nick Roe, and some others continuing the party in the hotel bar. I said to Sari that I was thirsty for an orange squash and why didn’t we join them? With a knowing smile, she agreed. We spent two hours perched on bar stools sipping our sodas and exchanging fairy tales, jokes, and tall stories with the others. Tom MacFarland regaled us all with “when I was at Princeton” stories. Sari and I got tired and sleepy around 2.30 a.m., so we excused ourselves. They all called goodnight to us as we left, kidding us about making the morning walk considering these late hours. We retorted that we surely would, and why not?

Thursday, August 12

Grasmere Lake
Sari and I had to run to catch up with the morning walkers again, but we caught up to them quickly as they were going clockwise, not the usual way around. We went up to the Rydal Path, catching dramatic views of the rain clouds and sunbeams with our cameras. Sari and I went down on the lake shore while the rest continued around the upper path on the hills.

Prof. Norman Fruman of Lind Hall in Minneapolis gave our morning lecture, titled “Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Affections.” It was one of the best lectures of the conference, redefining the term affections for us according to the meaning it held for the poets of the Romantic era, especially for our two major figures. Wordsworth considered that all his poetry was directed to and proceeded from the Affections; for him they tied together love, fear, joy, family, community, territory—they comprise the whole range of human feeling from infancy to old age.

Father Barth came to our seminar along with Prof. Fruman. One of the other professors and his wife were there too, and inwardly I was aghast at the amount of makeup she was wearing, like Dirk Bogarde in the final scenes of Death in Venice when the character becomes ghastly. In our discussion Bill had Norman elaborate on the Affections, Bob Barth and others contributed very interesting ideas.

After the seminar I felt panicky about completing my papers and got to work in the Moss Grove lounge most of the afternoon. When I finished working on them I walked around the lake counterclockwise to end up at Town End in time to attend Prof. Rich’s paper reading. His paper was on the political alliance of Byron and Wordsworth in the Peninsular campaign. It was a good paper, I thought. He presented his material clearly and succinctly, and there were no arguments, no bringing up of points not covered in the paper or in the research.

After dinner we moseyed to the Prince of Wales Hotel to listen to Prof. David Gillham’s lecture, “Wordsworth’s Uncertain Heaven,” in which he looked at the poet’s depiction of the child and of the adult in their imaginative moments, showing how he calls upon a nucleus of metaphorical and metaphysical references. There was no really kind way to say that although the topic seemed interesting, Prof. Gillham had bad asthma and his delivery, in a breathy, soft voice that was monotonous in addition, was soporific. In fact, Bill Ruddick, who conducted and always looked brightly interested in every one of these things, dozed. But at the end, Bill got up and spouted silvery streams of commentary, appreciation, and conclusion. How did he do it?

I think if Richard Wordsworth had read David Gillham’s paper, it would have proven to be quite good.

Inge and I wrote notes back and forth during the lecture. She wrote, Ich habe zuviel gegessen on my paper. I wrote, Ich auch. Pobre estómago. To which she replied, Armer Hagen. And I wrote, Pobrecitas.

After the lecture I finished writing the papers I had been working on. Sari and Sven and I began discussing the religious implications in the Romantic movement. We were too tired to pursue our ideas very far; we did not stay up very late.

Friday, August 13

More people than ever before came on the morning walk; it was the last official morning walk of the Conference. It was raining. I met Julia, Nick Roe’s girlfriend. Jane and Angela, the two hikers who liked my singing “Thais” so much, arranged with me to send them the lyrics after I got home. It was the last time to skip rocks, the last time to keep up with Richard’s long strides, the last time to sing “Stormy Weather” and “Anything Goes.” But those of us not leaving early tomorrow would have one more walk anyway, though Richard didn’t think he could come.

Dr. Marianne Walenda, the professor from near Heidelberg, told me about visiting her brother in East Berlin and how he couldn’t get out, but she could now go in whenever she wanted. We lamented not using these two weeks for her to teach me more German. Next time, we promised each other.

Father Robert Barth, SJ
I took pictures of people at breakfast. I wanted to remember these people whom I had come to like so very much. Father Barth left right after breakfast; I took his picture just as he was leaving. How kind a man he was! Everybody would miss him.

We all walked down to the Prince of Wales Hotel for the final lecture, Prof. Angus Easson of Salford University (near Manchester) giving his “View across the Solway: Wordsworth and Burns.” He talked about Robert Burns’s Scottish traditions, paralleling difference aspects with elements in Wordsworth’s poetry.

After the lecture was our last discussion in our seminar, at which silver-tongued Bill got Norman Fruman to open up his discussion of the Affections some more. It had gotten sidetracked the day before so that we could take advantage of listening to those who would not be around later.

With the discussions at an end, I found that I had grown comfortable in both understanding and even participating in them. It seemed ironic, but I thought it would be beneficial in my future to look back at this experience if I were ever in another difficult spot and say something like, “Look, I got used to high level discussion in that situation; it may not be that I’m dense but just that I need to get used to the jargon or the ideas.”

Left: Bill Ruddick. Far right: Richard Wordsworth.
The entire Conference took lunches and walked up Greenhead Ghyll. Sven, Sean, Sari, and I discussed certain professors we’d had, making sure that our comments were overheard by the department chair who had come lately to the Conference. We climbed one particularly steep slope through the bracken to reach part of our trail, and looking back, we noticed Tom MacFarland hiking up a different route. Sven told us that he had heard Tom was afraid of heights. I wondered why Tom had hiked up Helvellyn to the top last Sunday with Molly, in that awful, thick mist and rain? Sari said, “Just because he couldn’t see how high it was!”

Up Greenhead Ghyll an unfinished sheepcote lay partially scattered between the stream and Fairfield Mountain. As we sat eating our lunches, Angus Easson gathered us close around the sheepcote to hear him read Wordsworth’s “Michael.” Never could that poem be so moving as it was there in the lap of the green mountains, with the stream rushing by, most of us sitting on stones that perhaps the old shepherd had tried to use to build the sheepcote that symbolized the covenant between him and his son.

Where we stopped on Fairfield Mountain
I decided to hike to the top of Fairfield Mountain with Syl and Richard, Angela and Jane, Sean, Bill Howard, Julia and Nick, Neville, and some others. The slope seemed to be straight up, so we clung to rocks and grass as we climbed, barely reaching the plateau before a sudden shower hit. In about a minute we were drenched clear through despite our proper raingear and the partial shelter of an outcropping of rocks to which we had run. The rain was over in about ten minutes, but it had soaked the mountain sufficiently that we all agreed it would be imprudent to continue climbing.

Accordingly we scampered, slipped, slid, and sloshed down to Alcock Tarn. The wind cleared the air but left dramatic gray and black cloud formations roiling about high above us. We could see, we thought, all the way to the Irish Sea. The fresh smell of damp leaves on the paths all to the to Town End delighted me. I daydreamed of Sherwood Forest (which someone told me was reduced these days to about ten trees total) as it must once have been, until Nick and Julia called me back to earth by inviting me to tea with them and Bill Howard and Neville Newton.

We ambled over to the tea shop that we had gone to before, where they ordered their regular tea and I ordered peppermint tea. Naturally I came in for some teasing: “But peppermint is a stimulant!” I answered that that was really beside the point—the point was that I should try to follow my church’s health code by not doing anything obviously unhealthy to the body. Nick was very surprised when the other assured him that tea was loaded with caffeine, and everybody knew that caffeine wasn’t good.

They had asked me to let them read some of my sonnets, so I had brought two, the silly one about summer’s heat, and the one about Wordsworth’s grave. I didn’t need to be afraid of their reactions after all, they all liked them and read them over and over, and then they asked if I would share any more when I wrote them. I didn’t say I had others back in my room.

Julia and I, uninterested in the guys’ conversation, got to know one another. She was working on the teaching degree only because she needed the money before she could continue on for her D-Phil. I wanted to know all about it when she told me she wanted to do it on Thomas Hardy—who is one of my favorite authors. She said she had studied his poetry and could find almost no philosophical progression between his early and late work, which seemed odd when there is such a remarkable difference between his early and late novels. She wanted to explore that more, making me think I would have to go home and read his poetry myself. When we left the tea shop, we went to hear Douglas Kneale’s paper on those who helped Wordsworth write The Prelude. It was a good paper.

I finished all the papers that were due today and had three more poems that I planned to finish in London. We had to have at least fifteen papers done today and any others that we wanted to have comments on from Prof. Rich. Those that we turned in later, in London, would count for our grade but wouldn’t be returned with comments.

One of my poems I composed the evening before as I was walking around the lake. It was not very good, but it was an interesting exercise in what Dorothy Wordsworth might have replied to her brother’s poem “To My Sister,” if only they had been living as students in the 1980s.
Each word you say, dear brother Bill,
Cuts into my resolved plan:
The day is perfect, as you say,
But I don’t think I can.

The breezes in the air do bless
Our cottage life beside this lake:
The emerald mountains and the trees
An argument do make . . .

But for your wish, that I come out
To feel the pleasant sun and breeze,
I cannot say I will, though I
Do rather wish to please.

I have a hundred things to do:
Our mending, dishes, writing verse;
Two papers still I must compose,
A thought I’d like to curse!

But as you say, love’s power rolls round
About the very doorstep here
I feel it moving everywhere;
It loosens me a tear.

I’ll come, dear Bill! I’ll come with speed—
The woods and lake are calling me:
This day we’ll give to idleness
And come home in tranquility.

Sven let me read some of his papers, which I thought were very good. He knew well how to make every sentence, even every word count as gold in a short paper. I didn’t know how to do that yet. I was really quite verbose and lacked the ability to assemble my proofs well.

Sari and I decided to wear our best white dresses down to dinner. We looked very innocent and unsophisticated in those dresses. I thought we also looked attractive!

Then Sven and I, talking about papers, were late to dinner, so we ended up sitting at the head table with Richard Wordsworth, a case of “and the last shall be first.” Richard entertained me half the time with hypnotism stories, and I told my share of the same for his entertainment. The other half of dinner I listened to Lucy Newlyn on my other side, discussing gardens with the Erdmans. They were all the nicest people.

Ken Wood (the proprietor of the Moss Grove Hotel) and his staff were dressed formally for the evening, but they also had their cheeks painted red. They served us English roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with all the elements of the dinner described on the menu in Romantic poets’ terms. The desserts were heavenly. Richard offered me a bite of his and I did the same for him so that we wouldn’t miss anything. The Conference presented Ken and his staff with an envelope full of our donations as a bonus tip for superb service. Luckily for us “broke” students, our Department chair paid our collective tip out of his “unlimited travel funds” that he was always joking about with Prof. Rich.

After dinner the parties began. Before we began partying, Sari and I and Sven were up in our room talking religion with Roseanne and Gina. After a bit Sari and Sven left to join one of the parties downstairs.

Roseanne asked me for information on Mormon doctrine, but then she kept interrupting and asking unrelated questions, so I scolded her for asking questions only to listen for a point on which to disagree rather than trying to understand. She apologized and said she would try, but since I could tell it wasn’t getting through to her, I wouldn’t continue. We agreed as friends that now was not the time for her to hear these things. She said she wanted to ask the questions, but she was realizing she needed to ask the questions of her own religion first before asking them of mine. I agree that that seemed the wisest course for her.

When she was gone downstairs, Gina began to compliment me on my handling of the questions. I became very uncomfortable, as somehow her compliments did not seem to fit what I had actually done. I wished she wouldn’t, but I said only, “Thank you,” and let it go. I thought that perhaps I had been able to connect with Roseanne because I felt a great deal of empathy for her position.

"Christabel"
We went downstairs and found that in the lounge a game of “Poses Plastiques” was going on, a variation of the game of Charades. A small group would pose a scene from a poem or a play or something, and everybody had to guess the line or poem or play or whatever-it-was. When we came in, a group was doing a scene from Coleridge’s poem “Christabel,” with one person playing the moonlight, one playing the tree, Angus Easson carrying Neville as “Christabel” and Molly Lefebure down on all fours as the toothless mastiff bitch! The room was howling with laughter, as Molly has made known to everybody that this week she had had to have a molar removed from her mouth and she was still bruised and sore from it.
"Michael"


Other poses were from the poem “Michael,” the wedding guest being nabbed by the Ancient Mariner, William showing Dorothy the River Wye near Tintern Abbey, and then came another very funny one. Nick and Julia, Peter Laver and Jeanie Watson sat on a sofa acting all bored, and we guessed a lot of things before “The Borderers” was finally suggested.
"The Bored-erers"


"No books and no men"
Then Molly got fourteen of us women together to act out a line in a Wordsworth sonnet about fourteen women with no books and no men. We sat on the floor trying not to laugh at the guesses while we moaned about having only magazines to read (we couldn’t mention books) and only “the girls” to talk to. We finally had to tell what we were doing—Peter Larkin picked out the line, which explained why it was so obscure to everybody else.

After that party broke up, Jane and Angela and Sari and I decided to walk around the lake in the moonlight. That the moon was not yet up did not deter us in the least. Sven and Sean were going to come with us, but they backed out when I looked at my watch and spoke the time out loud as we stood in the street waiting for Jane and Angela to change their shoes. The night was cold and very clear, but also cold. And it was very, very late, between 1 and 2 in the morning.

The four of us women walked through Town End and down the highway past the Prince of Wales Hotel. We entered the trees, but there we were stopped. With Town End and the hotel almost a quarter mile away, there were no lights to interfere with seeing millions of stars, or thousands at least. The sky was almost white with them. But when we entered the woods, they did not give us enough light to see our way, so we turned back. At the break in the stone wall where there were steps down to the water, we climbed down, and I sat on the bottom step singing Hoagy Charmichael’s “Stardust.”

All the stars were reflected in the lake; we could even see shooting stars in the water. The water shone silver with the reflection of the shores deep black. Not only were the reflections black; the shores and trees seemed to be silhouettes cut out of black felt cloth, so deep was the black.

We began again to walk back to town. But a little way along the highway we were scared by a van full of “blokes” drawing up beside us and yelling things at us, trying to get us to come with them in their van. As if.

“Keep walking!” commanded Jane. “Don’t answer!”

“I don’t believe this,” said Angela, linking arms with me.

“Oh brother,” said I, as we strode quickly in step behind Sari and Jane.

“Don’t run,” said Sari, “just keep walking.”

“Oh god oh god oh god,” muttered Jane, under her breath. I’m sure Sari was praying as fervently as I was inside.

The van crawled slowly along beside us with the men laughing and yelling and drunkenly carrying on.

“Just go away,” I muttered so only Angela could hear me.

Angela replied in kind, “Why don’t they give up?”

“We’re not their kind,” I muttered. “Isn’t it obvious yet?”

And they suddenly roared away. We nervously giggled and said to one another how shaky we were. But they turned around up on the highway and came back.

We strode on, firmly locked together in pairs. They gave up when they saw they were not getting a favorable reaction, nor even apparently scaring us, but making us angrier. They did not come back again.

We regrouped and began to shake off the fright.

“Why do these kind have to come around spoiling such a beautiful place?”

“I don’t know, but you just don’t expect it here. You’d think they’d stay in cities.”

“People don’t come out to Grasmere expecting to be bothered with that sort of thing.”

“Yes, it’s the nature-lovers’ paradise, not the local hot spot! What did they think they were doing here?”

“What would you have done if they’d gotten out of the van?”

“I’d have been over this wall and into the lake, that’s what, long drop or no!”

Jane, snickering, repeated something one of them had said.
“JANE,” said Angela.

Sari and I, exchanging glances, realized at the same moment that we could add a bit of dirty British slang to the list of Things We Learned on Our Trip.

We all changed the subject for the rest of our walk back to the Moss Grove.

Ken had given me a key to the front door in case we came back after all the parties had broken up for the night, and it appeared that we had. But Inge leaned out of her window as we approached the hotel, calling out to know where we had been. She said Peter and Bill and some of the others had taken her and Jeanie and Margaret to a party in another little town, but nobody had stayed very long because it was pretty dead. Somebody suggested that our vanful was probably Peter and Bill and Neville, but we knew it wasn’t and there was a feeble laugh at the feeble joke.

Jane and Angela started back to their hotel, which was towards the Prince of Wales. We called, “Be careful!” and went upstairs to knock on Roseanne’s door and tell her and Gina all about it.

At first we were calm, but as soon as Roseanne asked, “And how was the walk around the lake?” we about hit the ceiling—“we got chased”—“a van full of blokes”—“they yelled all kinds of”—“and the British slang for it is”—poor Roseanne and Gina! They made us start over and tell it reasonably coherently. Then Roseanne wailed that we got all the excitement. She couldn’t wait to hear what Sven and Sean would say. Sari said if they said anything, she’d smack them.

Sari told me later that Sean, when told, had said he knew we shouldn’t have gone, or he should have come with us. I wanted to know what he thought he could have done about it, all by himself. Was he thinking he was Superman or something? Maybe, we agreed, they’d have taken him for another girl in the dark. One never knew.

We were too keyed up to go to bed right away, so we stayed up to pack all our things. Finally we lay down to sleep for an hour or two.

Saturday, August 14

Grasmere Lake and island
I was wide awake at 6:30, so I dressed, took my camera, and walked around the lake. A thick mist hid everything further than, say, ten feet. It was eerie. I couldn’t believe the night before had been so very clear. As I walked past the church yard, a huge black crow came stalking over the wet grass among the tombstone. Very eerie.

As I came off the village road at Town End onto the highway to Ambleside, a van went roaring by. It scared me half to death, even if it was the wrong color.

The mist muffled all the morning sounds. The ducks I saw disappearing toward the middle of the lake made no sound. I was in a silent movie, I thought.

The spider webs on the bridge caught the dim beams of the just-rising sun. Every strand was full of tiny glistening beads.

When I got over to the right-of-way path, I met Richard, Sven, the Dansies, and the Riches coming down to walk around the lake. So I turned back and went around again with them. The mist began to burn off, the animals woke up, and the eerie silent movie became the cheerful, lively usual morning in Grasmere.

Sven and I took lots of pictures, especially of the spider webs on the bridge. I never did get a picture of one of the crows in the graveyard, though I waited there after our walk for quite a while. The crows that were usually always there were obviously meeting somewhere else for the rest of the morning. Right after breakfast I dashed to get gingerbread and butter mints from the Sarah Nelson Gingerbread shop, along with some post cards. And then we were ready to leave.

Neville and Peter kissed me and Sari goodbye, much to Sven’s disgust. Roseanne was delighted. Everybody hugged everybody else; we all thanked Ken again and again, and finally we were one our way.

Roseanne wanted to know if I were going to write to Neville, since he had asked me to. I didn’t know if I would or not. She had no sympathy with my day-and-a-half crush on Bill Ruddick—he was too old, she said. Twenty years! At least, she reflected, he wasn’t married, like Peter.

I grinned and watched the scenery out the window as we sped away from Grasmere.

To be continued . . .

Final episode: Part X: A Hundred Years Older

Ducks disappear in the mist
Reflections
Mist rising
Gravestones
Grasmere house
Lakeland sheep
Reflections, take two
The boat
Twilight lake

5 comments:

  1. On your fossil rock you said the other side from the trilobite had an anemone. Since they are soft bodied creatures, they did not make fossils, (no hard solid parts to mineralize.) If it was a snail type, spiraled shell, it was an ammonite. They were very common and reached very large size, over a meter in diameter and 30 cm thick. The Chambered Nautilus is the modern example of them. They are related to squid, but differ in having the shell. That professor who was so critical of your poem about Inky was really thickheaded. Why would a poem about the death of a human love be any more "acceptable" than one written in the same way about a beloved cat? Or, are the only acceptable laments over a pet the ones written by recognized dead poets? What of Poe's "The Raven"? Is the animal only acceptable as a subject if it is a metaphor?

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    1. Thank you for the information about my fossil! I wish I still had it so I could show you, but a Certain Teenager Who Shall Remain Nameless (at least on the Internet) flushed it down the drains in frustration at me. Ah well. It is still out there, Somewhere.

      And no, I do not agree that the only acceptable use of animals in poetry is metaphoric. Although that is ONE acceptable use, I obviously think that love is love is love. There may be many layers and kinds, but no kind of love, in my opinion, is unworthy of poetry.

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    2. Teenage angst strikes again. Do you remember what Mark Twain said about raising a teenage boy?

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    3. It was the Other teenager, not the one you're thinking of!!

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    4. I don't think Twain said anything about teenage girls though. Would the same advice apply?

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